Swift School first grader Jose sat cross-legged on the gym floor and stared at the new pair of shoes. He lifted them from the crisp, new box and kissed them.
“I love my new shoes, they’re soft,” he said quietly.
Jose and each of his 90 classmates received a brand new pair of shoes last week, courtesy of the Baldwin County Association of Realtors and the nationwide Shoes That Fit program.
Last week representatives from the two organizations visited 24 schools with stacks of brand new shoes, dispersing 461 new pairs around the county. Swift School, where a majority of students receive reduced or free lunches, was showered with new shoes for every student there.
“We are so excited to be here and want to say thank you to everyone who had a part of planning this early Christmas celebration for my children,” Principal Sandra Thorpe told the crowd.
“Shoes That Fit” began in 1992 and has helped more than 120,000 children across the country. The organization relies entirely on donations from individuals, businesses and foundations and receives no government funding.
In May the Baldwin County Association of Realtors worked with the program to donate 20 pairs of shoes to students at Robertsdale Elementary School. The shoes replaced pairs that were hand-me-downs, two sizes too big or that were missing soles.
This summer Baldwin Realtors launched a $15,000 fundraising mission to fit every Baldwin County student in need with a new pair of shoes. As Swift’s students filed into the gym to be fitted with their new pair, many of the shoes they arrived in were dirty, ripped at the seams and worn away on the sole.
“This is something many people don’t think about much,” said Stephen Roberts Board of Realtors president. “If there is a need we want to be there to help.”
Shoes that Fit organizers said properly fitting shoes are often an overlooked need.
“Children are growing all the time so they constantly need new shoes. We’ve heard stories from kids that this is the first time their shoes were not hand-me-downs. This builds confidence,” a Shoes that Fit representative said.
Swift students were fitted for their shoes earlier in the month and last week had help from dozens of Baldwin County School officials as they tore off their old pairs and shimmied into the new shoes. Each child also received a new pair of socks.
Some smiled quietly. Others shouted across the gym to their friends.
“They are my favorite colors, pink and black!” squealed first grader, Carleigh.
Amari waved the shoe over his head and motioned to his friend across the way. “These definitely have grip. This is awesome,” he shouted to the boy.
Fifth grader, Aaron, stared quietly at the shoes and said simply, “Perfection.”
“I like that I don’t have to wear the old ones,” he said. “I’m going to keep them good and clean.”